BMW 530e long-term test: report 1

Following a recent facelift, the plug-in hybrid BMW 530e promises punchy performance and a longer electric range. We're living with one to see if it delivers...

LT BMW 530e front cornering

The car BMW 530e M Sport Run by Steve Huntingford, editor

Why it’s here We want to know if this luxurious saloon really gives buyers the best of both worlds

Needs to Combine outstanding comfort and refinement with strong performance and good real-world fuel economy

Mileage 1420 List price £52,325 Target Price £44,583 Price as tested £59,080 Test economy 80.7mpg Official economy 156.9-201.8mpg Options fitted M Sport Pro Pack (£2495), Technology Pack (£2495), Parking Assist Plus (£600), Bicolour Jet Black/MT alloy wheel with run-flat tyres (£500), split-folding rear seats (£395), heated steering wheel (£270)

5 January – First impressions

A friend recently did his first parachute jump, and came back raving about the experience. But while I can understand the appeal, I’m not a fan of heights, so know it’s not for me.

Similarly, I can see the appeal of electric cars – they’re generally quiet, fast and cheap to run – but there’s no way I could fit one into my life right now, because I live in a flat and therefore can’t charge at home. So, instead, I’ve decided to try a different sort of electrified car: a plug-in hybrid.

LT BMW 530e taillight

Specifically, I’ve gone for a BMW 530e M Sport saloon which, following a mid-life refresh of the 5 Series last year, has a battery that’s big enough for an official range of up to 37 miles, in addition to a 2.0-litre petrol engine for longer trips (or when I can’t find anywhere to charge up).

I don’t have to worry about being left stranded by the roadside when I run out of juice, then. But the big question is whether I’m financially better off with the 530e than I would have been with a diesel 5 Series – or even a conventional petrol model. After all, when you’re running a plug-in hybrid solely on its petrol engine, the battery is just dead weight, so being able to charge fairly regularly is a must.

Given my inability to plug in at home, I’ll be relying exclusively on the public network. But helpfully there’s a new multi-storey car park within walking distance of my flat, with a whole floor of charging points that are free for customers to use.

LT BMW 530e charging

True, there’s the cost of the parking itself, but I’d be paying for this anyway; once a week, I move my car over to the multi-storey so my mother can use the space that comes with my flat when she comes over to look after my daughter.

Then there’s the free charging that some supermarkets now offer to customers while they’re doing their shopping. I’ve actually changed stores, because the one I used to go to doesn’t provide charging, and I can see plenty of other customers doing the same now that electrified cars are really starting to take off.

Okay, I don’t get a huge amount of energy in the 40 minutes or so that it takes me to do my weekly shop, but it’s more than enough to essentially make the journey there and back free.

LT BMW 520d in car park

So, what fuel economy am I getting? Well, it’s early days, but I’m currently averaging 80.7mpg, which is 33.7mpg more than I got out of a BMW 520d diesel when I ran one a few years ago. And if coronavirus ever allows us to return to the What Car? office, where I’ll be able to get charge for free while working, the 530e’s figure is only likely to improve.

The downside of choosing the 530e over one of its petrol or diesel sisters is that you get a smaller boot (410 litres rather than 530 litres). However, without driving the cars back to back, I’m struggling to spot any dynamic differences; like any 5 Series, the 530e has precise steering, grips strongly and feels impressively agile for such a big car.

This doesn’t come at the expense of a comfortable ride, either, although here my car is helped by the fact it has the £2495 M Sport Pro Package, which includes adaptive suspension.

LT BMW 530e rear cornering

Factor in a beautifully finished interior with supportive seats and the best infotainment system in the business, and it’s easy to see why the 5 Series is a former What Car? Car of the Year and our reigning luxury car champion.

So far, then, my decision to go (part) electric is turning out to be anything but a leap into the abyss.

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